International fellow and Senior Champions4Peace Coordinator Nasiphi Khafu (NK), interviews Michaela Thompson (MT).
NK: Who are you and what is your involvement with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland?
MT: My name is Michaela Thompson; I’m 21 years old. I am from West Belfast but I mainly coach in North Belfast. I am a sessional and fast track coach at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland. I am also a member of the Senior Champions4Peace (C4P) and a leader of the Junior C4P. I currently run the U16 PeacePlayers basketball development programme on weekends.
NK: How long have you been with PeacePlayers?
MT: I have been involved for 10 years now. I joined when I was 11 years old.
NK: How and why did you join PeacePlayers?
MT: I joined PeacePlayers because I wanted to learn a new sport. My uncle runs a youth club and we got invited to join the Cross Community League where we joined up with children from other youth clubs and played against each other.
NK: With your involvement in the organization, what have you learned so far?
MT: I have learned a lot; mainly that Catholics and Protestants are no different. Growing up as a Catholic child in West Belfast, you hear a lot of stories about the ‘other side’. PeacePlayers helped me realise that people are people, regardless of their religion or background. One of the biggest things I have learned is how the other PeacePlayers’ sites work. I was one of 2 participants that represented PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland in the Basketball and Leadership Program that was hosted by PeacePlayers International – Cyprus last summer. For the first time in 15 years all PeacePlayers’ sites were brought together in one venue. Each site had to do a presentation of what goes on in their communities through PeacePlayers. I learned that even though we are the same we are also different, and even though we do the same programmes they are run very different at each site.
NK: Outside of PeacePlayers what else are you involved with in Northern Ireland?
MT: I volunteer at my local youth club in West Belfast, called Whiterock, with children aged 6-11. Last year I shaved my hair off and I raised £3200 for Cancer Research UK and I have raised £1700 this year for Macmillan Cancer Support. Other than that everything I do is PeacePlayers related.
NK: Why is cancer so close to you?
MT: It is so close to my heart because my granny, my aunt and my uncle have cancer. I am doing as much as I can to raise money and help in anyway possible.
NK: Could you please describe the life of a typical young person in Belfast?
MT: As you may know we have religious divides between Catholics and Protestants. Normally young people in Belfast would stay in their own communities or we would go into city centre where it is more diverse to shop or just hang out. We usually can’t stay out too late because there are still a lot of bomb scares and it makes it more difficult to get home.
NK: How do you think PeacePlayers is helping or can help young people more in Belfast?
MT: I think PeacePlayers helps young people because it allows them to have a voice, unlike some other places that don’t want to listen to the opinions of young people in Northern Ireland. It gives us something to look forward to doing. It’s also helping more young people in Belfast by giving them all sorts of opportunities that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
NK: Are you a leader/Champion4Peace, why or why not?
MT: Yes I am, not because I’m older than most of the other participants but because I have taken on a bit more of a leadership role within the group. I help to organise who is coming to meetings and help organise events with other Champions4Peace. I feel that using the experiences I have gained from PeacePlayers and the fact that I’ve been through what most of these youth are going through helps me be a better leader.
NK: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
MT: In five years I hope to play for a basketball team in the Basketball Northern Ireland (BNI) league. I hope to complete the Level 3 of my Childcare Certificate with the hope to get to levels 4 and 5. I would really love to be a project coordinator within PeacePlayers. I would love to visit all PeacePlayers sites and travel around the world to see different places and learn from my own perspective.
NK: What is your message to young people of NI?
MT: We are the future of Northern Ireland. It’s okay to know our past and understand it, but don’t let the past define our future.